“[W]e have not gone the store-bought, costume-in-a-bag route, even though we recognize that the proliferation of ready-made options is a godsend to time-strapped, dual-career parents.”
This is a second part of a previous post about the shifting personal importance of Halloween. Now that I’m a mother of two young boys, I find that my husband and I are constantly looking for teachable opportunities. The holidays have accordingly become excellent ways for us not only to spend quality time together, but also to impart our values. We manifest our commitments even in something as simple as costume choices, as I explain below.
(1) We do not indulge the Manichean-like stage that our four-year old child is in. As befitting a boy his age, our primo is fascinated by superheroes and has asked on a number of occasions if he could be one for Halloween.
Our answer thus far has been no.
To be clear, we see nothing in principle problematic about young children aspiring to be bigger, stronger, or justice-seeking. Our problem with the cartoon or comic-book world of superheroes is that it often reduces all people into “good guys” and “bad guys” and thus provides a distorted picture of where evil is to be found.
So we find ourselves constantly reminding primo that there are no good and bad people, there are people who make good or bad (or better or worse) choices. Until he is old enough to really understand that, we don’t think allowing him to dress-up like Superman or Batman would be best for his moral development.
Our parenting strategy re: superheroes is continuous with the way we handle the issue of weapons−another one of primo’s current obsessions. (He loves to ask the police officers he bumps into on the street if he can see their gun and regularly asks us if he could have or even touch one of the (toy) weapons he always manages to spot whenever we go shopping).
On this score, we also sound like a broken record. We regularly tell him some version of the following: “Guns are not toys; they are weapons that could seriously hurt or even kill people. When you are old enough and if you are still interested, we’ll take you to a shooting range where you can hold and shoot a real gun. But for now, you must not think of guns as toys.”
(2) We are intentional about scrutinizing our consumer choices.
We resent the mindset that any holiday (Christmas included) should center on buying new stuff. For the sake of the environment, good stewardship of our resources, personal cost-savings, and to indulge our (infrequently employed) creative sides, we follow the reduce-reuse-recycle (or even upcycle) mantra where we can.
With respect to Halloween costumes, this has meant that we have not gone the store-bought, costume-in-a-bag route, even though we recognize that the proliferation of ready-made options is a godsend to time-strapped, dual-career parents.
Fortunately, primo’s first Halloween costumes involved no additional expense on our part. His uncle who had been living and working in Japan for some time and then-girlfriend (now wife), had given him a yukata or casual Japanese kimono made of cotton. We felt that it was cute, sufficiently costumey, and not politically incorrect (since one of the givers was herself a Japanese national), which is why primo wore it two years in a row.
We scavenged what we already hade in our household for primo’s third and segundo’s first Halloween costumes and then supplemented what we found with a few items from the craft store. Our 9-month old segundo last year went as ebi sushi. He already had dozens of white onesies from which to choose, and the shrimp, seaweed, and wasabi parts of his costume were created by some white paint, 5 pieces of felt (for $.20 a piece), and basic sewing skills.
Primo’s SCUBA diver costume last year (his choice, based upon his then-obsession with the diver in Finding Nemo), was also mostly pulled together from what we already had. We supplemented his swim suit and rash guard, my snorkel and dive mask, some black tubing from our garage, his little brother’s pacifier for his regulator, and an empty bottle of tonic water for the dive tank with the following additional items: a small can of silver spray paint ($3.00) and several pieces of blue, red, and white craft foam to make the dive flag and flippers (costing under $2.00). [See fig. 1 for the frontal view for the flippers.]
(3) We aspire to “equally shared” parenting.
Marc and Amy Vachon, authors of Equally Shared Parenting: Reinventing the Rules for a New Generation of Parents describe this parenting style thusly:
“Imagine a life without having to choose between a meaningful career and enough time with your children….You
are fully competent as a parent rather than an understudy or manager to your spouse, and you have an energized marriage with a fun and happy partner….[E]qually shared parenting…stands in sharp contrast to the traditional marriage with children, in which the man works and the woman stays home, or the ‘supermom’ marriage, in which the man works and the woman tries to balance a career with the lion’s share of the childcare and household tasks. Equally shared parenting is more than an extension of feminism; it is more than simply what is fair. Equally sharing the care of your children with your partner is about balancing your life, balancing your family’s collective life and sharing equally in the joys of raising a family.
Our definition of equally shared parenting is this: The purposeful practice of two parents sharing equally in the domains of childraising, housework, breadwinning, and time for self.”
We believe in this full human flourishing and egalitarian (vs. workaholic and “male headship”) model of parenting and living, even though it is imperfectly realized in our case. What we love about the holidays, then, is the ritual reminders of the importance of stepping out of our patterns of everyday living to spend quality, mind-expanding time with our children. This past year that has meant that we took primo and segundo to their first pumpkin patch festival. In fact, they will have gone to 5 other Halloween-themed parties or events by the time the 2011 season is over. Yes, we’re exhausted (but hey, I wasn’t kidding when I said that we aspire to but have yet to actualize in our lives a healthy work-life balance).
The “equally shared” element of our parenting is reflected even in the way their 2011 costumes came to be. From the brainstorming stage to execution, my husband and I shared the labor in ways that occasionally broke with traditional gender roles. I found the base of their Where the Wild Things Are costumes at a local thrift store. With basic sewing skills, I transformed a $4 bunny costume into Max’s wolf suit. (That also involved buying two $.50 stuffed teddy bears and then skinning and deplushing them to turn one into the wolf’s tail and the other to a piece of fur on Max’s crown, itself a $1 purchase at the craft store). My husband’s contribution came in the form of sewing on the whiskers (black pipe cleaners) and then making and sewing on the 4 fabric-covered buttons. Yes, you read that correctly– my man can sew! :) We also jointly made Max’s scepter out of a repurposed cat toy (for the wand), a gold Christmas ornament, cut-up cereal boxes, and silver spray paint (leftover from his Halloween 2010 costume).
Segundo’s get-up was similarly a $3 thrifted lion costume that I transformed by painting on orange stripes, removing the lion’s mane, and attaching a different tail and the beard for the “wild thing” using a similar skinning/deplushing of stuffed animals technique. My husband designed and stuffed the horns (from a $.20 piece of grey felt) and drew in the scales of his pants with a black sharpie pen.
While I was doing the bulk of the costumes, my husband was working diligently on the boat (the kids’ radio flyer wagon transformed by some cardboard, paint, and some muslin we already had for the sail). Here, the roles were reversed: he did the majority of the design and implementation and I served mostly in an advisory role.
All told, making their costumes has been a labor of love. We know that our boys will not be able to appreciate our make vs. buy (or the buy second-hand vs. buy new) decisions, but it is our hope that someday they will. At the very least, primo is totally thrilled about his costume and his boat and has even forgotten, for the time being anyway, his incessant “can I be Spiderman?” requests.
Have a safe, wonderful, and fun-filled Halloween!